Keeping students and teachers together

ERN frequently receives requests for information on “looping,” the practice of keeping students with the same teachers for multiple years. Susan Black, a staff writer for the American School Board Journal, recently reported on educators’ experiences with looping and included references for further reading.

Schools experienced with looping report that teachers who keep the same students for two or three years know their students very well and form close personal relationships with them and their parents. These teachers report that discipline problems decrease dramatically as they build trust with students
and their families. In these classes, more time is spent on academic tasks because there are fewer interruptions for discipline and because students are familiar with the classroom routines and their teacher’s expectations. Students settle right into the class routine at the beginning of subsequent years. Teachers in looped classes frequently assign summer activity packets tied to upcoming topics in the curriculum. They say this helps keep students from losing ground over the vacation.

Extra time on learning improves achievement

This extra time spent on learning leads to improved achievement, report researchers from Ohio’s Cleveland State University who studied looped classrooms in East Cleveland’s FAST (Families Are Students and Teachers) program. Data show that parents in these classrooms had higher rates of participation, and student attitudes toward learning improved. Importantly, Project FAST classes had higher reading and mathematics achievement scores than non-looped classes in the same schools. Teachers who stayed with their students for multiple years also reported a greater sense of effectiveness.

In a study carried out at Johns Hopkins University, researchers found similarly positive attitudes in the looped classes they studied. Teachers, students and parents said that looped classrooms were like a second home where kids felt safer and more secure and from which fewer students were referred for special education.

Deborah Meier, former principal of award-winning schools in East Harlem, used looping in the mid-1980s as a way to establish strong bonds between teachers and students. In Attleboro, Massachusetts, Superintendent Joseph Rappa instituted looping in the district’s five elementary and three middle schools. Positive results included increased attendance and retention rates, decreased discipline problems and suspensions, and a 55 percent decrease in special-education referrals. In addition, staff absenteeism was cut by more than half.

Limitations

Educators who have experienced the positive effects of keeping students and teachers together for more than one year conclude, however, that looping is not a panacea nor is it appropriate for all situations. Although it may look simple because it doesn’t require major restructuring, additional staff or increase budgets, it does require a deep commitment and some training to be successful. Educators experienced with looping say that it should be an option offered to teachers rather than a reform mandated for an entire school or district. Successful programs lead to its expanded use. 

Administrators who oversee successful looping programs recommend that the best way to start is to give a few teachers wanting to try the approach the support they need to be successful. Extra planning time is essential to organize a multiple-year curriculum cycle, to work out issues such as how to handle high-need students and to
set up a communication network with parents and other professionals. Administrators also suggest that all looping placements should be reviewed at the end of each school year so that teachers and parents are offered a way out of a poor situation.


“The Practice of Looping Keeps Students with the Same Teachers” American School Board Journal Volume 187, Number 6, June 2000 Pp. 40-43.

Published in ERN September 2000 Volume 13 Number 6.

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